After a narrow loss to Rep. Charles Rangel in the 2012 primary election, Sen. Adriano Espaillat said that his second campaign for the 13th Congressional District, which spans Upper Manhattan and the Bronx, will be different.
A longtime fixture of the uptown political scene, Espaillat got his start in Community Board 12 before being elected in 1996 to represent Washington Heights and Inwood in the New York State Assembly.
“I started my career as a neighborhood activist, and I’ve never stopped viewing the world from the perspective of the people struggling in our community,” Espaillat said in an interview with Spectator on Monday.
Espaillat served as Assembly member for the 72nd District until 2010 when he was elected state senator, the position he currently holds. In office, he led the fight to renew New York state’s tenant protection laws, which were set to expire in 2011.
“Inequality is spiraling out of control in this district,” Espaillat said. “In Harlem, you’ll see luxury condos next door to public housing where the average resident has to wait more than a year for basic repairs.”
Espaillat cited housing, immigration reform, and economic development as his top priorities if he is elected.
“From Harlem to the Bronx, we’re all facing the same challenges: rising rents and disappearing affordable housing, a broken immigration system that’s split families apart, and an economic development model that’s leaving longtime community members behind,” Espaillat said.
Immigration reform is an issue particularly close to Espaillat, who was born in the Dominican Republic and was the first Dominican American elected to a state legislature.
Espaillat faced off against Rangel in the congressional primaries in 2012. A newcomer to federal politics, he joined the race late in the game.
“I ran for Congress without any establishment support because I didn’t think the change we need could wait,” Espaillat said. “Most insiders dismissed me, but we came within 1,000 votes of winning.”
This time around, Espaillat said he hopes to learn from his mistakes.
“I’ve started earlier, and I’ve made tremendous inroads into neighborhoods outside my Senate district that were unfamiliar with my record in the last campaign,” Espaillat said.
Much of his outreach this time around has been in the Bronx. Espaillat said that one of his first actions in Congress, if elected, would be to open an office in the Bronx.
“For far too long residents have had nowhere to turn to be heard by their Congress member,” Espaillat said. “That changes week one.”
Espaillat has gained key endorsements from several Bronx politicians and political groups including the Bronx County Democratic Committee and Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz Jr.
“Adriano is a proven fighter in our community and I know he will give our residents a strong voice in Washington,” Diaz said in a statement released on April 14. “I look forward to working with him on his campaign and in Congress.”
This support from the Bronx could prove crucial in unseating Rangel, who doesn’t have historical ties with the neighborhood. Rangel has represented Harlem in Congress for 43 years, but the portion of the district located in the Bronx was only included under his representation when the district was redrawn in 2012.
Since the late addition of Bronx community activist Yolanda Garcia to the ballot, many have noted the possibility of Garcia taking key votes from the Bronx and Latino communities away from Espaillat.
Espaillat, however, said that voters should be given more credit.
“They’re going to decide on a candidate based on policy issues, not by looking at someone’s last name,” Espaillat said. “While some people will try to analyze this campaign along racial lines exclusively, voters are looking to the future and focused on economic issues.”
Since announcing his candidacy, Espaillat has also collected a number of other endorsements, including New York City Comptroller Scott Stringer and City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito, CC ’91, both of whom supported Rangel in 2012.
“He has worked hard to maintain our affordable housing stock, to help small businesses shine and to fund our children’s education,” Stringer said in a statement. “In Congress, I know he will be the unifying voice for the 13th District.”
Given his numerous endorsements, Espaillat said he is confident in his candidacy.
“When you look at the diverse coalition of support I’m building from all across the district, there is no doubt I’ll be successful this year,” Espaillat said.